The leader of Orkney Islands Council has said recent comments from the Secretary of Scotland are “tending to deceit” and the two haven’t spoken since 2020.
In comments made to the media this week, the secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack said he had spoken with council leader James Stockan.
Mr Jack also pressed the Scottish government ministers to offer fairer funding to Orkney council.
This followed a debate in Orkney’s council chamber this week, where its 21 councillors backed a notice of motion from their leader to “explore alternative options for governance.”
The council leader had put the motion forward, saying he has “lost faith” in the Scottish and UK Governments.
Unfair funding allocations from government, ae lack of Road Equivalent Tariff, and a lack of meetings over the council’s ailing internal ferry fleet all featured as motivations for the council leader’s motion.
Speaking exclusively to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Stockan called the comments from Jack “absolutely astounding”.
He said: “It seems to me as if it is tending to deceit.
“The last time I spoke to the secretary of state for Scotland was three years ago in 2020.
“I have written to them. I’ve copied him into a letter I wrote to the prime minister.
“I’ve had many times when I’ve asked for a meeting with him. That’s always not been possible for one reason or another over the last three years.”
Asked again if he’s had no contact with Jack this week, Mr Stockan said “none whatsoever.”
Mr Stockan said he had sent a letter to the UK government after “getting nowhere on the ferries replacement issue.
In the letter, he said, he had shown them a legal opinion that said it was possible for the UK to support Orkney Islands Council directly with transport infrastructure while not breaking the devolved settlement.
However, Mr Stockan said he was told Jack “didn’t want to get involved in the devolved situation”.
He said: “Ferry funding is the only thing I’ve spoken to Alister Jack about but that was in March 2020.
“I met him again when he came here with the prime minister at the time. That was to announce the islands deal in 2020.
“Since then, I’ve texted him on one or two occasions but we have not met.”
Mr Stockan said he contacted the Scotland Office in preparation for the first meeting of the islands forum. This was held in September last year.
He said he had spoken to Lord Offord who advised him to write to the prime minister, secretary of state for levelling up Michael Gove, Alister Jack, among others in Westminster.
Mr Stockan said: “That letter was responded to quite some time later by a junior minister.
“To be quite frank their response was quite shocking.”
On Tuesday Mr Stockan had also called the reply “patronising”.
A UK government spokesperson has replied to these statements from the council leader.
They said: “The Scotland Office – including the Scottish secretary and other ministers – have had extensive, constructive engagement with Orkney Islands Council, including its leader Councillor James Stockan, about a variety of issues on many occasions and welcome further opportunities to do so.”
Mr Stockan was asked if the real intention of his notice of motion was to create political disruption in service of strengthening Orkney’s case.
He replied: “My goal is not for them to be bickering.
“My goal is to satisfy the acute needs of a fragile island economy.
“If we don’t get the investment in now, we will have calamitous results.
“My desire in this whole thing is to test – to see if these governments really value us.”
Mr Stockan also claimed he has not had a reply from the Scottish Government and the First Minister to a letter sent in May.
This letter asked when a joint ferries task force would next meet.
The Scottish Government said they had sent a reply as of July 3 and receipt of this letter was given.
A council spokesperson claimed this letter was “a brief holding response that promised a follow-up.”
The spokesperson said the council is yet to receive this follow-up.